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Thinking out loud

I am no stranger to strong emotions. I suppose having the exposed outlet of a gigantic stage with blaring lights and a wailing orchestra every so often temporarily soothes my savage beast. “It’s the best form of therapy”, you’ll hear numerous singers declare. Great truth lies in that statement. But every so often, I lack the appropriate outlet for my heated emotions that could easily be considered (shudder) “controversial”. We’re taught to avoid such hullabaloo, and generally I obediently abide.

But then this happened:

“Republican Gov. Sam Brownback took the major step of privatizing the arts in Kansas, turning back the clock to a pre-1960s era. The governor erased state funding for arts programs, leaving the Kansas Arts Commission with no budget, no staff and no offices.”

Gov. Sam Brownback

Yep. One slash of the pen, and every single penny for the Arts in the State of Kansas is gone. (Mind you, this also magically slashes all the matching Federal Funds that vanish instantaneously with that bold stroke.)

Now, that’s not some erroneous state carefully smashed into the buckle of the Bible Belt, mind you ~ it’s my home state. You know, that Sunny Sunflower State which I have proudly touted and bragged upon across the world, defending even in the face of harsh quizzical looks from the most skeptical of folks (“You live WHERE?”) Yep. That one. The state of my first piano recital and choir concert, the home field of my artistic curiosity and education, the homeland which taught me to dream big and without limitation. Yep. That one.

But please don’t ask me explain this one. For the first time, I’m at a complete and utter loss to bring clarity or understanding to this, as I see it, horror. A horror which I fear is sadly only a microcosm of bigger things at play. And I’m an optimist, remember? I try desperately to keep alarm at bay. This monster, however, just may get the better of me.

I have officially turned on my internal editor to be sure that any expletives that are BEGGING to be unleashed in this posting are duly deleted, and I can only say that this ignorant, short-sighted, fearful, and unspeakably damaging gesture by a rogue political figure acting WITHOUT the majority consent of his legislature, voted in by many people carrying, it pains me to say, those same shameful qualities, is so very deeply and profoundly wrong.

But that kind of argument falls on deaf ears, I know – and will lead me into a nasty minefield of political machinations which I’ve tried to swear off of this page and, in all honesty, has no real place here. I’m not a politician, nor historian, nor intellectually equipped to go head-to-head with the fearful naysayers. I’m just a humble singer who prefers to spend energy on music. I’m just a home-grown product of an agricultural state which used to value the arts, like all great societies and cultures of the past. My imagination rivals a good ol’ Kansas Category 5 tornado’s destructive force when I begin to think of where I’d be without an education fueled by the arts that informed my way of thinking outside the box, without a community theater or choir or art exhibit that gave me true solace and an emergency exit from some of the great crises in my life, not to mention the outlet of participating in an expressive activity which helped me understand myself and the mystery of life a little better. But hey, what merit is there in that? Ya can’t TEST it. Ya can’t put a VALUE on it. Must not count for nothin’ much.

And yet, if I don’t argue it? I’ll fall into line with those people that shrug their shoulders and say, “But what difference will it make?” I attest that it could make a WORLD of difference. But, then again, I’m naive.  Or maybe I’m only fueling the fire and making the situation worse by calling the “other side” out? Are we doomed to polarization and stalemates forever? Is there no middle ground anymore?

Mr. Alex Aldrich

Ah, so maybe it’s better to argue on financial terms, since that seems to be the only thing of value in our times?  I’ll leave that to the brilliant essay by one Alex Aldrich, the very man the Governor used as an example of why this cut was “good”.  Mr. Aldrich argues:

“Finally, and perhaps most importantly, every State SHOULD invest in the arts sector simply because it makes good economic sense.  One of our most conservative policy analysts looked at state and local tax revenues that flowed to state and municipal coffers from our very narrowly-defined arts sector in Vermont.  Income taxes paid by artists, arts administrators and independent arts contractors, as well as the long-established IMPLAN economic modeling analysis on just the nonprofit arts institutions in the state, reveal a total return of $19.45 million on a combined investment of $2.5 million, which includes our $500k appropriation.  This annual ROI of 775% is even more astonishing since virtually all of Vermont’s state tourism dollars promote skiing, outdoor recreation, fall foliage, maple syrup, and artisanal food preparation and service, NOT art and culture—a circumstance which, I am happy to say, is going to change starting this summer.”

So leaving aside any cultural, artistic arguement, it is simply bad business.  But ya know, how can you put a value on children learning things that we don’t want them to learn? Nope, gotta reign in all of that nonsense in.  OK.  I’ll stop.

Performing Arts Center of Kansas City, Opening Fall 2011

So how can I possibly put a “Joyce-Spin” on this? Where’s the silver lining?  In addition to people like Alex Aldrich stepping up to the plate, my OTHER State, the grand Show-Me-State of Missouri (Kansas City is split in two with the State Line of Kansas and Missouri careening through its center) is about to put itself onto the map, once again, with a bold, valiant, brazen new venture about to open this fall.  Yes, the entire cost of the construction is privately funded (way to go, citizens of KC!), BUT it will house three nationally recognized organizations which ALL receive state and national funding and contribute mightily to the local economy.  Two completely different approaches to the value (I won’t even bring up “necessity”) of culture. Guess which one gets my vote?

In a not-entirely related segue, I just need to keep going back to the things that make sense to me when the world seems to have spun off its access, and this video absolutely does the trick:

So there we have it. Long-winded, emotionally charged, perhaps in over my head. But not silent. Nope, not that.

PS: This letter perhaps makes the argument much better than I can.

PPS: Contact the Governor and add your voice to the chorus, should you feel so compelled

17 Jun

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I arrive (nearly) to the end of this very full season, and it’s good moment to remind each of you reading this that YOU are the reason I travel the world, away from home for months at a time, working towards an unattainable perfection, exposed in ways very few people can imagine, singing the stories of characters searching for enlightenment/redemption/hope/relief/joy, and why I dedicate a large part of my life to this century’s old art form. I do it to entertain you at a minimum, but mostly to offer you comfort, to help us all join in a communal “event” that connects us across time and space despite our perceived differences, and I do it because I truly believe it makes the world a better place. I know you feel this most of the time as well. It’s likely what keeps bringing you back! I hope that after this season, perhaps you feel a bit more inspired to take what you receive as an audience member and activate that sensation in your own life, to bring hope and joy to the world around you. Don’t ever underestimate your power to do that - one doesn’t need the spotlight to bring transformation. #Songplay #Winterreise #Agrippina #Didon ✨

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~ Joyce DiDonato